Facebook banned a U.S. media group allegedly tied to conservative outlet The Epoch Times for creating a large, coordinated network of phony accounts designed to interfere in foreign countries’ activities.
The social media giant removed more than 600 accounts and several pages and groups originating in Vietnam and the U.S., Facebook noted in a blog post Friday. The activity emanated from The BL, a U.S.-based media company — a link directing to The BL’s Facebook account is now removed.
“Some of these accounts used profile photos generated by artificial intelligence and masqueraded as Americans to join Groups and post the BL content,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, wrote in the post. “They used a combination of fake and authentic accounts of local individuals in the US to manage Pages and Groups.”
The page administrators for the accounts often posted content about political news and issues related to President Donald Trump’s impeachment, as well as other memes promoting conservative ideology, according to Facebook.
Those responsible for the accounts tried to conceal their activities, but the probe determined that it was linked to the Epoch Media Group. Facebook is continuing its investigation into The BL and any other networks and groups aligned therein, according to the company’s blog post.
The BL network violated Facebook’s policies, including those prohibiting coordinated “inauthentic behavior, spam and misrepresentation,” Facebook noted in the blog post, which came months after the company took action against The Epoch Times for promoting ads that violated its policies.
Facebook banned The Epoch Times in August from future advertising after reports showed the media outlet allegedly used sock puppet accounts to purchase ads that criticized coverage from wider media and implored viewers to subscribe to The Epoch Times instead.
The move came after an NBC report suggesting the outlet shifted its spending to conceal $2 million of ads that touted Trump’s sharing of the outlet. The Epoch Times published ads appearing under page names such as “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism,” which allowed the outlet to avoid Facebook’s rules, reports show.
Neither “Honest Paper” nor “Perpetual Market,” another page the outlet used, list The Epoch Times as its page owner. (RELATED: Facebook Dings Epoch Times For Allegedly Skirting Rules For Political Ads)
The Epoch Times spent more than $1 million on ad buys supporting Trump, among a host of conspiracy theories, NBC reported. The ad buy was more than Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts spent on Facebook over a three-month period of time, OZY reporter Nicholas Fouriezos noted in a pair of Aug. 22 tweets.
The Epoch Times is pushing back against Facebook’s decision to connect it to The BL. “The Epoch Times and The BL media companies are unaffiliated. The BL was founded by a former employee, and employs some of our former employees,” publisher Stephen Gregory said in a statement Friday.
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